Ms. Ameera Shah, Managing Director, Metropolis Healthcare
Shares practical ways of boosting employee motivation and incentives. Also, the initiatives through which India can improve the testing facilities & infrastructure, ultimately helping to flatline the burned on current systems
The video is a detailed account of a conversation with her. Below is an excerpt…
How did you keep the motivation of your employees high?
The biggest focus of the company was on ensuring our team’s wellbeing, as they had to take personal risks to be on the frontline. An employee fund was created to take care of all hospitalization and medical bills of employees who contracted the virus. Life insurance plans were created as a safeguard, among other measures. Bonuses, higher compensation were awarded to employees, as they were undertaking an enormous risk. Combining tangible benefits with motivational sessions and verbal assurances was the approach taken by us. These benefits were not limited to only sample collecting frontline workers, but also those engaged in logistical support, scientific representatives, and others who had to engage with people.
Long working hours became a common feature of working in hospitals and diagnostic centers. How did you handle employee burnout?
We had to increase hiring rapidly, to avoid overburdening existing employees. If we were short on frontline workers when an upsurge in cases arrived, it would have left us with a shortage of trained staff. Thus, planning in advance and having a clear vision was important and helped us to create the infrastructure beforehand.
Was the skilling incoming employees on a short notice a significant challenge?
It was a huge challenge, as many new employees in the healthcare sector are young, fresh graduates with only theoretical knowledge. In pre-COVID times, a technician would have to train at least a month before being tasked with responsibilities. For a pathologist, the training would extend to around six months. With COVID, training had to be squeezed into a much shorter period of time. This was a major issue for most healthcare institutions. We had to maintain flexibility in training new employees, while still maintaining quality of services. Innovation in dealing with skilling workers became a must.
Patients were anxious and demanded their own test results repeatedly, while testing agencies were overburdened with hundreds of test samples. How was this issue managed by you?
Frontline workers were working extended hours and then had to face violence at the hands of patients and customers. High expectations and high anxiety caused people to divert their frustration towards healthcare workers. Employee safety had to become one of the biggest priorities. We made sure that frontline workers did not experience a twin pressure: from customers and management, together. Connect programs that fostered interaction and provided stress relief were also undertaken. The emotional burnout of dealing with harassment from customers was no less harmful than physical burnout.
What are the lessons that we did not take from the first wave that contributed to the severity of the second wave?
A key mistake made right after the first wave was indulging in a self-congratulatory spirit while we could have stayed more grounded in reality. According to different estimations it may take us a number of years to completely get the virus under control so we have to keep that in mind. For an expected third wave, we have to prepare adequate infrastructure, commit to economic planning and involve public health experts in policy making more than ever. We need to value the expertise of professionals in decision making. Private and public sectors need to develop a more cooperative partnership as the private healthcare sector serves a huge proportion of Indians today. Proactive planning like ensuring pediatric ventilators, will allow us to dull the impact of a third wave.
How can the Government increase the number of quality testing labs in India, and thus, reduce the pressure on the existing infrastructure?
The first step is to create basic standards for the industry. There should also be a proficiency testing program. Here, the Government can send samples to a lab every month, which can then be tested by the laboratory. The results can then be cross verified by the Government, to see if the lab was able to match the quality standards. Such regulations will ensure that labs are forced to comply with quality standards.
On a connected note, where do we currently stand on the Atmanirbhar quotient in terms of diagnostic equipment?
The top healthcare providers in India use medical technologies that are imported. The reason is that some global players have managed to build robust and high-quality machines, which have gotten approval from major institutions like the US FDA. These are trusted more, even though they are expensive. There are some indigenous companies that make good quality equipment, but most have not achieved parity with global competition. A lot of research and investment is still required. The Government can play a major role in promoting the indigenous industry by increasing the ease of doing business. Stable policies go a long way.